New polling data sees Europe's two largest political families, the Socialists and the Conservatives, winning almost exactly the same number of seats in the European Parliament following the May EU elections. And while EU-reformist forces are set to gain up to 20% of seats, analysts say their influence will be felt in national rather than European politics.
The website PollWatch2014 released their new polling data on Wednesday (19 March), aggregating national election polls across all 28 member states. According to the figures, the EU Parliament’s two major parties are in a close race to come out first in the EU elections.
The socialist S&D is excpected to win 214 seats; the centre-right EPP 213 seats – which, in effect, is a statistical tie. Other parties follow, with 40 to 60 seats, with the liberal ALDE group currently at third place.
According to policy director Doru Frantescu of VoteWatch, the transparency organisation behind PollWatch, the outcome will determine whether or not there will be a shift in power in the EU Parliament.
“In the current setting, the centre-right EPP party has a lead role and won most votes, together with the liberal ALDE party,” Frantescu said at the Paris-based think tank Notre Europe on Wednesday.
Both the socialists and the EPP have intensified their campaigns over the past weeks, hoping to win the largest number of seats in Parliament in order to get their candidate elected for the European Commission presidency.
Televised debates were announced recently, that will pitch socialist candidate Martin Schulz against the centre-right contender Jean-Claude Juncker.
Julian Priestley, former secretary general of the European Parliament and close advisor to Schulz’s campaign, told EurActiv that “there is an increased media attention" for the pan-European campaigns in the EU elections "due to the personalities and political differences between the common candidates".
Shift of power to the fringes of the hemicycle?
Over the past months, observers have wondered what impact a predicted surge in eurosceptic MEPs will have on the next Parliament.
Around 150 seats could go to parties campaigning against greater EU integration, ranging from the euro-reformist ECR group led by the British Conservative Party (polling at 40 seats) to the far-right EFD group (33 seats) and non-attached MEPs (90 seats). In total, this corresponds to some 20% of the European Parliament.
Still, “you will see a clear majority for the pro-European side", stressed Nicolai von Ondarza, senior associate at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Germany. “The eurosceptic surge will not be as dramatic as it is played out in media debates.”
“In the next Parliament, I see a continuous fragmentation on the right side,” he said. “I expect to have two eurosceptic groups on the right: the [existing] EFD and a second one formed around Front national (FN),” the French far-right nationalist party.
EurActiv reported earlier on the tug-of-war that is expected to emerge in Parliament after the elections if the predicted surge of Eurosceptic parties does happen.
Despite their divisions, eurosceptics could still shift the power in European policy making, experts agree. “We will see a push in the next EP for more growth policies and less budget consolidation,” Frantescu said. “We could also see more social indicators in the European Semester and perhaps the reservations on the TTIP negotiations could gain strength.”
On energy, the next Parliament will be heavily split according to Frantescu: “There will be a significant support for shale gas and oil; and MEPs are divided over nuclear energy via national lines. “
And, as observers have flagged in the past, the biggest influence of eurosceptic parties could very well be on the national level.
“Due to the attention in the media for the Alternative fur Deutschland, the party already has a large effect on the government,” von Ondarza said, taking the example of the AfD party in Germany, which is economically right-wing, and anti-Euro. “This has had an effect on the German government’s stance on freedom of movement.”
But according to the researcher, Germany isn’t the only country facing such pressure. “British politics is much driven by the fear of UKIP; in Denmark the government was influenced by the Dansk Folkeparti to bargain on border control; in the Netherlands there is high fear of the PVV,” he says.
Next May’s European elections will be held on 22-25 May in all 28 EU member states. Members of the European Parliament are elected to represent voters for a period of five years.
These elections are the first to be held under the Lisbon Treaty, which grants the European Parliament the power to vote on the president of the EU executive, the European Commission. Parties have taken things into own hands by nominating their own candidates for the top spot.
Eurosceptic parties around Europe have shown their willingness to act on a European level. The controversial Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders and leader of the extreme-right Front national in France, Marine Le Pen, have led the initiative to form a new group in the European Parliament, together with like-minded parties.
- 14-17 April: Last plenary session of the 2009-2014 European Parliament.
- April & May: Several presidential debates planned between all candidates for the EU Commission presidency, and between Schulz and Juncker.
- 22-25 May: Elections for European Parliament